Truck Driving Teens Could Be the Answer to Supply Chain Issues

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If you’re an American teenager and you want to hit the road, here’s your chance — and you can even get paid for it. Thank the federal government, which is moving ahead with plans to let teens drive big rigs across state lines as part of a test program.

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This represents a major shift from current rules, which require truckers to be at least 21 years old to cross state lines. But a new apprenticeship program would let thousands of 18- to-20-year-olds drive big rigs from state to state.

The move comes amid rising concern over a shortage of truckers — a major contributor to current supply chain problems.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provided details of the pilot program last week, including training procedures and vehicle safety technology requirements, The New York Times reported.

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The pilot program can last up to three years and would require 3,000 young truckers at a time to complete 400 hours of cumulative training with an experienced driver in the passenger seat. They will then be allowed to drive solo under continuous monitoring by trucking companies until they turn 21 and restrictions are lifted.

Trucks used in the program must be equipped with an electronic braking crash mitigation system and a forward-facing video camera, and their speeds must be limited to 65 mph, the AP reported.

The apprenticeship pilot program was required by Congress as part of the infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November. It also requires the FMCSA to start the program within 60 days.

The hope is that widening the pool of drivers to include teens will help solve massive labor problems in the trucking industry, which has seen thousands of drivers leave the profession over COVID-19 fears and other issues.

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As GOBankingRates recently reported, the driver shortage is so severe that some major trucking companies are experimenting with driverless, robot-controlled trucks — including J.B. Hunt Transport Services, FedEx and the freight division of Uber Technologies.

Not everyone is happy about letting teens (or robots) drive 40-ton trucks down the highway. Safety advocates point out that younger drivers get into more accidents than older ones.

But industry leaders support the program. Among the biggest advocates is the American Trucking Association (ATA), which sees the program as a way to help the industry overcome an estimated shortage of 80,000 truck drivers.

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Nick Geale, vice president of workforce safety for the ATA, noted in a statement that 49 states and Washington, D.C., already let drivers under 21 drive semis, just not over state lines.

“This program creates a rigorous safety training program, requiring an additional 400 hours of advanced safety training, in which participants are evaluated against specific performance benchmarks,” Geale said.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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